Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, do creative craft skills matter any more? I only ask because, as the creative director of a large agency, I've been approached by a young team with a brilliant book.

What's equally clear is that they can't spell or even get basic punctuation right. I know we live in a visual age, but am I right to be concerned?

A: I'm probably not the right person to ask. I can spot an aberrant apostrophe at 100 metres, split infinitives still make me wince, I despair at the frequency with which prevarication is used for procrastination and when people write that "Charlie's contribution to The Noble Art can never be underestimated", it's just possible that they mean it but it's rough on Charlie if they do.

Perhaps the solecism that enrages me the most features in the first paragraph of almost any letter from any person described as a "customer relations executive" and who is usually called Jacqui or Matt.

"Dear Mr Bullimore, As a long-standing and valued customer and distinguished oenophile, I am thrilled to draw your attention to our fabulous Autumn package."

Now sit down, Jacqui, and listen carefully. You are not the distinguished oenophile: I am. What you are is thrilled. Is that quite clear?

I know that much of this is pedantry but I continue to pedant. I find it very difficult to believe that people who can neither spell nor punctuate can be a prized addition to a creative department. But only very difficult; not totally impossible. If you are quite, quite certain that this young team's book is not only brilliant but also theirs, then you should hire them immediately.

Beware, however, of the inverted admiration syndrome. Please make it clear that your admiration for their work is based not on their courageous disdain for accuracy but despite it: you find them immature. You've hired them because you hope they'll be able to generate excellent ideas. If they can, and if in time they also learn the rudiments of grammar and how to spell recieve, seperate and reccommend, you'll be even more proud of them.

Meanwhile, don't let a copy editor out of their sight.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I work at an agency where my chief executive has made it quite obvious he's having an affair with one of the creative team. I'm a mutual friend of the creative person's other half and I'm in a total quandary whether to tell them. If I do, it'll be obvious that they found out from me and I'm bound to get the sack. If I don't, I'm going to feel plagued with guilt every time I see my friend. What should I do?

A: You've worked yourself up into a lather over this simply because you're relishing every little prurient moment of it.

Oooh, the thrill of it, the guilt, the moral dilemma, the long little shivers of delight and apprehension: with you, playing God, deliciously en-webbed at the heart of it all!

Read your own letter. Your chief executive has made it quite obvious that he's having this affair with one of the creative team. That's how you know he is. That's why everybody else knows he is.

So why do you pretend that if the creative's other half finally finds out about it, the whole world will know that it was you what blew it? And what makes you think you'd get fired as a result?

Because you're determined to inflate your own petty role in this everyday story of agency life, that's why - and have taken an orgasmic pleasure in writing to me about it.

What a very bored (and boring) person you must be.

Q: I've recently retired from the industry and I'm considering writing an autobiography of my time in the business. Although I'm a copywriter by trade, I've never embarked on a book before. I really don't know where to start. Do you have any advice?

A: My best advice is don't. I suppose it's possible that your advertising skills single-handedly propelled Tony Blair into 10 Downing Street, effected the release of Nelson Mandela and invented J K Rowling.

In that case, you might not only have something to write about (which is always relatively easy); you might also attract some readers (which is always more difficult).

That huge new-business win, those Golden Trophies, your fallout over creative principle with your co-founder at GumDropZ.com: they may all have been white-knuckle stuff at the time but a few years on will have all the appeal of faded family snaps.

Mad Men made advertising interesting by the simple expedient of ignoring it.

Perhaps you should do the same? It's called fiction.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP

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